Torajas bizarre heritage – To Ma’ Pamanta’ – The Weatherman

With six months of wet season per year and funeral ceremonies in the range from 50’000 to 500’000 USD, being a weatherman in Toraja is good business. Weathermen get hired to fight the rain with magic and are part of the enduring myths in Toraja like the buffalo-highway for souls or the hunter who buried an abandoned corpse and gets rewarded with luck for a lifetime. Reason enough to arrange a meetup and to find out more about their rituals. Early morning, Henry and I crash a Rambu Solo’ funeral in Sereale. The family just woke. I’m told the weatherman usually acts undercover. No one is allowed to know of his presence, people are afraid of sabotage from other competitive weathermen who didn’t get hired, or from enemies of the family. Henry might not look like one, but certainly is a well-trained detective and goes investigating pro-actively whereas I delight the mood of the family and have a coffee. However, our efforts remain unsuccessfully. „I intended to hire weatherman,“ the son of the deceased complaints, „but my family intervened.“ Henry looks disappointed. „Unfortunately they are already to modern for such absurdities. So they prefer praying to God for good weather,“ he says. We continue our research and meet Henry’s relative Toppo Sarungallo’ who is a To Ma’ Pamanta’. Toppo interrupts the work on his new house. I have look at the property, and immediately realize that the weather business is flourishing. “No rain today”, I try to break the ice. Toppo smiles, “yes, I make ritual yesterday.“ Henry joins the conversation and makes him understand that I am keen to learn more about the ritual. “A lot of rain in Switzerland,” I say, not bluffing at all. Toppo agrees to tell me in his secret ritual. Right now, on the spot. I’m a bit confused since I have been expecting a one-week training, at least.

The To Ma’ Pamanta’ smiles, because his success rate is 100%. As the weatherman Toppo Sarungallo’ avoids the rain to interrupt funerals. Occassionally he uses his magic for his own purposes.

Toppo Sarungallo’ explains: “At three o’clock in the morning you should start. Go to the river and check the swirls in the water, pour water from a swirl into a piece of bamboo. Pick some leaves of the Pa’passakke flower and put them also into the bamboo. Walk a one or two-kilometer radius around the place where it shouldn’t rain. Place the bamboo tube in the kitchen of the Tongkonan. Make sure, it is placed in the kitchen – the center of life. That’s it.“ I’m writing down everything with great care, as I mentally finalize my plans about, a weather service company based in Switzerland, I even consider operating internationally. Need to check soon if the domain is still available, just to find the Pa’passakke flower might be a bit tricky.

The Pa’passakke flower is part of the ritual to avoid rain.

„Occasionally he focuses on the tricky spots the following day to light a fire there and say some magic words,“ tells me detective Henry later to have a complete overview. I’m curious how much he gets paid for his service. “Not bad,” Toppo cuts it short. But Henry gets more info out of him. „A family pays me for around 3.5 million Rupiah (250 USD) to avoid rain during specific times at a Rambu Solo’ ceremony. And sometimes they give me a buffalo or a cow.“ Well, that’s quite a wage for a bit of hiking. What if he fails, I’m asking the weatherman. “Money Back Guarantee,” he replies without any laughter. „Toppo has a success rate of 100 percent,“ Henry adds. „But it ain’t easy, it’s about being as precise as possible, every square meter counts. Sometimes I have to avoid rain within a slot from three to four o’clock so that the parade can escort the coffin to the graveyard without getting wet. That’s a lot of work,“ Toppo sighs as he sums up. Supposedly, there are several funeral ceremonies within one day (happens often) and therefore several To Ma’ Pamanta’ in action, how can you guarantee a successful service? “Easy, I fight with magic,” he replies. Assuming, the others copy that strategy, do the rain clouds then fly automatically where no magic is? “Yes!” I am thrilled, but waking up early isn’t my thing. There has to be an easier way.

In the village not too far, there should be another weatherman. We go and check. „Yes, he’s around, but busy working on the new roof,“ his wife kindly informs us. I’ve always wanted to witness how Torajans put a roof of a traditional Tongkonan together. It simply is an architectural masterpiece. I climb up the 6 meters to the place where Bara is adjusting bamboo poles to the main wood construction.

A typical Tongkonan is probably the most impressive heritage of Torajan culture. Its roof is made from bamboo layers.

Turns out, Bara works only for pocket money as a weatherman. Mostly, people hire for his skills as a carpenter. This doesn’t bother me, just yesterday I received a massage from a carpenter downtown Rantepao, who cured my knee without a massage education. No doubts other carpenters can control the rain without weather education. Bara agrees to show me his ritual, but in exchange he expects me to bring some beers for him and his crew. Nothing easier than that! After the beers have been distributed, Bara walks me over to the fire place, where a mystical pot is placed. I can’t wait to see it, the highlight of my Toraja exploration, a learning everyone will envy me about, because I personally will control the weather. Bara opens the lid of the pot, “Batu Asan,” he clarifies the boiling stone. “Batu Asan?” I double check. “Batu Asan,” nods Bara, and climbs up calmly onto his bamboo roof.

The magic stone Batu Asan is boiling and keeps away the rain from the construction site of the carpenter (and weatherman) Bara